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By: Jamie Collins

 “The important thing is this: to be able, at any moment,
to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
Charles Du Bos

People often talk about the price of success. It is paid by each of us, in different ways, at different times. While the price we are willing to pay in obtaining what we want varies from person to person, the one thing universally true of success is that it presents itself to each of us with a price tag. I came across a quote a few years ago on this topic that truly resonated with me. I actually keep it on my desk to this day.

It says:

“The Law of The Price Tag

You will get exactly what you pay for. Seldom do you get more than what you pay for.  Success will not come easy or cheaper than the price you pay. You must decide in your heart whether the goal is worth the price you will have to pay.  SACRIFICE – Be sure no matter what you expect to give – at some point more will be asked. The strength of the team in impacted by its weakest link – is that you?

The price must be paid by everyone – you have to give up something to be a member of the team. The price must be paid all the time – there are no victories at bargain prices. The price never decreases – most teams/people don’t quit at the bottom of the mountain, they quit half-way up. A person/team fails to reach potential when one or both of these laws are violated:

  1. They do not understand THE PRICE OF SUCCESS;
  2. They do understand, but are not willing to pay for it.  If we want it, we must be willing to pay the price all the time – not just when it’s convenient.” 

~ Coach John Calipari

Many years ago, I found myself working on what was probably the most significant piece of litigation I’ve ever worked on. It was a case involving the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. I was the firm’s lead paralegal working on that file, and responsible for coordinating service of process on more than 300 Defendants, predominantly all foreign individuals and entities. It was a major undertaking. We were serving everyone from Saudi princes to gas stations.

Although I had already developed a love affair with litigation at that point in my career, the case captivated my interest. It allowed me to see how high the stakes could be, arduous the work, and gave me a small role to play in an important, high-profile cause. I was honored to be involved. The significance of what we were doing wasn’t lost on me. I knew it was important. It stood for something. It meant something to people. My small role in preparing documents, passing along pertinent information, preparing status updates, requesting information from other firms, coordinating with lead counsel, and being willing, at any moment, to give what I must in order to further the case would ultimately become my first major lesson on personal sacrifice in a legal setting.

Late one afternoon, we found ourselves immersed in an important project, one born from the last minute genre. The lead attorney and I found ourselves embarking upon a major undertaking around 4:00 p.m. At that time, I was in the early years of my career; in my early twenties, no children, wasn’t married, and happy to clock spontaneous overtime hours anytime the need arose. Like most, I enjoyed the unusual, welcomed silence that came standard as a perk for anyone working past 5:00 o’clock into the evening twilight. On that particular evening, I had a college class to attend, more specifically, English Comp II. It’s funny how I can’t at all recall the exact details of the project we were working on, but I’ll sure never forget the rest of the events from that day.

I found myself sitting in my large, u-shaped cubicle, intently typing away in front of my computer screen. I was intercepting e-mails, listening in on calls taking place between my boss and co-counsel, as my boss stood behind my chair and air dictated aloud to me, we industriously worked to finalize an important document. The standing orders were to get this important document finalized, and faxed out of the office that evening.

There was only one problem: English Comp II.

I found myself plucking away at the keyboard, rather than driving to class. After all, I was the lead paralegal. It was an important case. The attorney needed me. The work had to go out. Internally, I thought to myself, “Well, I’ll be a bit late to class tonight, but it’s definitely worth it. There is simply no way around it.” So there I sat…typing.

Eventually, my attorney and I found ourselves hovering over the fax machine together, standing in the front lobby, as we anxiously waited for the thick stack of typed white pages to each slowly make their way through the scanner into the invisible cyberspace that would ultimately carry them to the desk of our co-counsel. The stack of papyrus was a thick one, and each page realistically took a minute to scan, but felt more like an eternity. We watched the pages slowly pull themselves through one-by-one. Finally, the last page passed through the scanner. Called to confirm. Document received. Task completed.

Great! I headed out the door to English Comp II.

By way of background, I had completed all work with the exception of the final paper in this writing class (all high A’s, just in case you were wondering). We had done a lot of peer review edits in that class. I can honestly tell you the best two papers in that room belonged to me and a polite, well-dressed, blonde haired guy, who had written an eye-opening paper on the ridiculous amount of pollutants found in tap water. It wasn’t a close call; Mr. Water Pollution and I (Madam Med Mal) were setting the curve by a mile. I was one draft away from turning in my final paper and securing my “A” in that class. Only one class remained. I had written my heart out on every paper.

Upon rushing into the classroom, I took my seat, and within moments, learned that my classmates had just taken a pop quiz — a spur of the moment, 10 question quiz that I had missed it. Oh no! After class, I approach the teacher to explain the reason for my 45 minute delay (a real reason; one related to my job as a paralegal that could not be avoided) and ask her if I can take the quiz or make it up at another time. She refused. I had missed it, and there would be no retake.

I decide to throw myself upon the mercy of the academic altar, and volunteer to do something, anything, to make up those lost points. I was willing to write a 10 page paper (no lie…I seriously offered that up as a viable option), to earn my 20 points back. Anything she deemed to be fair. I was game for whatever pain-staking assignment she wanted to assign my way, if only she would grant me the opportunity. Perhaps an extra credit assignment? Summarizing an entire book? My first born?

It was at that point when I realized I was attempting to scale a tenured, 30-mile high, brick wall while wearing broken stilettos. It was a no go. She would not allow me to make up the quiz points, no matter what I offered to do. My defeated follow up consisted of me inquiring if a letter from my attorney boss verifying the reason for my unplanned delay would help. It was to no avail. She did not care.

There I stood, in a classroom, attempting to melt the heart of an adjunct ice queen.

The thing is – I had decided to sacrifice what I must in order to get the legal project done that day. I was a paralegal, helping to support an important cause, assisting my supervising attorney, and I was willing to pay the price…whatever it was. The moment I decided to stay at that keyboard, rather than departing through those law firm doors en route to my car, I made a choice. I became a dedicated paralegal in that moment.

Now if you had asked me at the time if I would have been willing to take a B+ in English Comp II, rather than the “A” I truly deserved, I’m not so sure I could have restrained myself from charging out of the law firm gate in a full-on sprint like Secretariat, in search of my next best career option outside of the legal realm. But I had dedicated myself to the personal obligations of my career on that day, in that moment, and in doing so, landed myself a painful B+ in a class I had, by all accounts, dominated.

At one time or another in your career or personal life, you will be asked to pay a price. As Coach Calipari said, “there are no victories at bargain prices.” Some victories will require bigger sacrifices than others. Sometimes you are willing to pay the price; others times you won’t be. On occasion, you will be required to put yourself on the line. The opportunities will cost you more. The stakes are higher, the rewards greater. At the end of the day, that B+ still irks me to the depth of my being, but I realize (proudly) that I was willing to pay the price.

If you ask me today if I’d be willing to take a soul sucking B+ in my best course to do what I did all those years ago, I’d look you straight in the eyes, toss you my car keys, pull myself up to the keyboard, and ask where we should begin. Whether I realized it or not, that day I learned the price of success. I learned the price of dedication. I paid it. We may not be willing to pay the price on everything, but on some things, we are. On that day, I learned we must oftentimes be willing to sacrifice what we must, in order to do what we must, to ultimately become who we will.

Whether I knew it or not at the time, it was a defining moment in my career. I knew who I was, and what I was willing to put on the line to become her.

As for my English Comp II grade, I say “thank you for the B+” to the merciless ice queen perched over her grade book, for each time I gaze down and see it upon my college transcripts, I’ll view it as the most meaningful, significant and beautiful B+ one could ever hope to earn.

I earned it the day I became a dedicated paralegal. A day when I earned the first professional stripes of my career, and never looked back.

The day I learned I was willing to pay the price…of success.

_____

“…There are times when something is asked of us, and we find we must do it. There is no calculation involved, no measure of the necessity of the thing itself, the action that must be performed. There is simply an acknowledgment that we will do the thing in question, and then the thing is done, often at considerable personal cost… ”

– Jesse Ball

“What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; it’s dearness only that gives everything its value.”

– Thomas Payne

“To every person there comes in their lifetime that special moment when you are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to you and your talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds you unprepared [unwilling] or unqualified for work which could have been your finest hour.”

Sir Winston Churchill